Malcolm Gladwell, ex-journalist for the New Yorker, discussed in January 2007 the origins of the Enron scandal. Doing so, he coined an idea that stuck with me until now. Without going back over the details of his article that will not fascinate anyone anymore, there was a distinction between problems that were of the "puzzle-" or mystery-" category.

A puzzle or a mystery?

To start with the simplest category, puzzles are problems that can be solved as long as you have enough relevant information.

Puzzles are chess-like. You start the game with all the information on the board, and with enough time and intelligence, you can always find an optimal next move (this slide is an extract from one of our innovation training for business execs). 

A puzzle is, for instance, calculating what your market shares in your competitive environment will be next quarter. Or what capital budget do you need to plan for next year to meet your sales targets? This might not be simple, but it's always technically doable. The only difficulty in solving puzzle-category problems is ultimately the time one can spend (and the money one can invest) conducting the investigation. In mathematical terms, puzzles are associated with zero-sum games. There is a known amount of players around the table to share a finite pie.

Mysteries are another beast entirely.